Corazon Miller is a NZ Herald reporter

Tiny fighter pulls through: The incredible story of Olivia Agnew, the girl who weighed just 630g

Amy Agnew is taking each day as it comes with Olivia, who was born weighing 630g and is now almost 3kg. Photos / Greg Bowker
Amy Agnew is taking each day as it comes with Olivia, who was born weighing 630g and is now almost 3kg. Photos / Greg Bowker

Olivia Agnew weighed just 630g when she made her premature arrival at 24 weeks and five days gestation into the world last October - almost a year to the day her brother passed away.

Three months on she weighs 2953g, almost five times her birth weight, has just had her first proper bath, is beginning to breast-feed and is out of the incubator and in a cot at Auckland City Hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care unit. She arrived at 32cm long. She is now 44.5cm.

The first time the Herald met the Agnews - a week after Olivia was born, the tiny little fighter had just had her first cuddle with her mum, Amy.

However, it's been a tumultuous journey in the weeks since for the Agnews who at one point were told to prepare for the worst when their little girl at just three weeks old was rushed away to emergency surgery due to a blockage in her bowel.

"She was very, very, very sick and she pulled through the operation but then afterwards they found it difficult to ventilate her," said Olivia's mum, Amy.

Following the surgery, where 10cm of her bowel was removed, Olivia needed 100 per cent oxygen and staff told the Agnews their baby girl might not survive the night.

Amy Agnew said hearing her daughter could die was one of the darkest moments of the past few months.

She had already had one miscarriage and lost Olivia's brother - who died in utero in October 2015.

"That was a really tough day, as you know our story with Ollie, to be told we may lose Olivia as well was pretty tough to hear."

Today, more than a week out from her expected due date of February 7, the youngest Agnew is progressing well despite her rough start in life - but getting the all-clear to go home is still a few weeks away.

"She's very chilled, doesn't complain very much, only when she's hungry," said her mum. "She's always very calm when she's around me...it seems to be the general feedback that I get from the nurses, that she's very placid."

Reflecting on what they'd gone through to get this serene image Amy Agnew said it was "exhausting" mentally, physically and emotionally.

"Obviously constantly being here is exhausting on its own, plus expressing every three hours and just keeping up with what's going on with Olivia every day."

But she expressed her gratitude to the NICU team and her fellow mums for all their support.

"I can't thank the nurses enough, there have been times where I've been quite low and the nurses have given up their time to talk to me and just make sure I'm okay."

Jason Agnew holds the hand of Olivia Agnew, his 25-week-old premature baby. Photo / Greg Bowker
Jason Agnew holds the hand of Olivia Agnew, his 25-week-old premature baby. Photo / Greg Bowker

While she said no journey was the same it helped having a peer group who understand a little of the NICU journey.

"We have been here a long time and during that time there's been a lot of babies in and out of our room - it's easy to compare you to them - but really you can't because every-one has their unique issues."

Olivia is but one, of a dozen babies born each year born around 24 weeks - right at the cusp of fetal viability.

At birth she'd be among some of the smallest babies born in the country - though there are reports of babies born weighing as little as 500g.

In 2015 12 babies were born at 24 weeks' gestation, 1.7 per cent of 691 births at Auckland City Hospital; and 10 were born at 25 weeks, 1.4 per cent of all births.

According to National Women's Health information database, rates of disability for extremely premature babies were about 20 per cent and ranged from very mild developmental delays, to cerebral palsy, hearing and visual impairments.

Long-term it was difficult to say how Olivia would develop, but aside from her chronic lung disease, a respiratory complication associated with being born early and another surgery to reconnect her bowel, her mum said the early signs were positive.

The medical team was still working to slowly wean Olivia, off her oxygen, though it was possible she'd still need to be on a small amount when she first went home.

While Olivia was now stable, her mum still tended not to look too far into the future and chose to celebrate each little milestone.

"It's the little things, like when we are alone together and breast-feeding, it is really quite amazing, that was a pretty special moment doing that for the first time last week.

"Every day I notice little features coming through, little dimples on her chin, eyelashes, hair growth and the little grimaces that she has."

To learn more about the NICU and how to help go here

- NZ Herald

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